Chapter One: Humility

The pale blue skin of a water pokémon shone eerily purple in the light of many shimmering crystals. The vaporeon lay prone in a bow as he awaited the call of his mistress. She had summoned him to the stone circle just a half-mile outside the quiet town the humans were fond of calling Lavender, though the pokémon knew it as ancient burial grounds long before humans had begun burying their beloved pets there. It was a place of ghosts and of ancient, dark magics.

At length the vaporeon heard the soft footsteps that heralded his dark mistress' approach. His frill held back in respect as she inched closer. The very air around her seemed tainted with a dark, almost malign energy.

"Rise, my servant. You have been granted the most wondrous of opportunities," the silken voice of his mistress rang within his mind, as though his very soul were a bell which had just been struck.

The vaporeon stood upright, frill still held back in curt respect as he gazed upon the foreboding form of his very meaning for continued existence. Within his glassy orbs reflected the well-curved body of a female delphox, her silver and purple coat hanging down and ending just below her knees, unlike most delphox, indicating her rare and unique fashion. Her very witch-like essence was engulfed in purple flames, which wreathed the female in malevolent, almost demonic light.

"What is it that you need of me, most gracious and benevolent master?" the vaporeon spouted with almost gushing praise. "My very life is yours to do with as you see fit." He mewled in sycophantic praise for the fox-like creature.

"What manners you have now!" the delphox chimed happily as the crystals of the stone circle glowed brighter in symphony with her delight. "I have molded you into a great individual, not that pathetic cringing coward that your own human couldn't stand," the witch said with the most interesting mix of praise and disgust, as if one had just been served the most delicious burger only to find it made of rattata. "But I wanted you, didn't I?" she cooed softly.

"Yes," the vaporeon stated as if pleasing this creature would bring eternal happiness. "How may this unfit vessel of your holy word spread your divine message?"

The witch-like delphox smiled cruelly at this. "Heed my words well, young one, and you shall receive your every worldly desire."

A female lopunny sat at the edge of a natural pool watching her two buneary children play at the water's edge. Lithe and well-toned, the female lopunny was ever vigilant even in the relative safety around the Sanctuary, a collective assemblage of ruins of human society long past. She sighed a little to herself. Her master had been working tirelessly with her to break this paranoia, to help her move forward past the loss of her other two children, yet she found herself so easily falling upon bad habits.

"Don't stray too far, children!" she shouted as one of her buneary children took off running from the other in a game of tag, the exasperated mother of the pair about to bound off after them in a panic.

Warmth filled her breast however, the calming warmth of ease, as though her cares were taken from her all at once. "Peace, young one," the aged voice of a delphox would say with the soothing warmth of a summer's breeze. "Your children are well protected in the sanctum. Of that I can assure you." That same voice would continue permeating her to the very core with comfort and cordiality.

"But, master!" the lopunny would protest, her words ringing out through the small grotto. No other presence seemed to be about, yet she spoke as though one could hear her. The mother of the two young pokémon was pushing against the warmth with her worry and desire to protect her children, her worldly desires clouding her from the peace that she so dearly craved.

The good feeling withdrew a little, like a cloud cast over the sun, yet it was still there, ever present in the valley. The lopunny felt some shame at her weakness. Why was it she could not do such a simple thing as let her children have the same carefree life that she once had at their age? She had lost a sister herself back then, and yet her own mother did not fret over her remaining children like some overprotective kangaskhan. This shame only made the warmth withdraw more.

"Master," the lopunny whispered before looking about to find that her children had strayed out of sight. Worry overcame her shame and she immediately began a frantic search for her progeny.

The grotto was fed by a small stream which flowed freely from the nearby mountain, the icy waters populated by little more than magikarp and the occasional poliwag. The pool in which the water from the stream collected was deep and cold. A visiting dratini had once swam as deep as it dared before coming up to report that it seemed to have no bottom, yet nothing had ever come up that way so none feared the depths, as mysterious as they were—at least none but the mother lopunny. She constantly fretted over the thought of her children falling in, never to be seen again as their cold lifeless bodies sank into the dark abyss. Then she thought back to her two deceased children, having struggled for dear life in—... She did not want to think about it any longer.

Blind with panic, the lapine mother blundered about the edge of the pond seeking her children with frantic speed. Visions of them having fallen in, or worse, having been drug in by some remorseless being to be fed upon, clouded her mind like a dense icy fog, the warming presence that pervaded the grotto now just as distant in her mind as a wintry day.

In the depths of despair now, the lopunny cursed the warm presence under her breath. How could she have been so foolish as to believe one whom she knew posed a danger to her children? Of course he must have had something to do with their disappearance, there was no other explanation. With fear turning to anger, the lopunny mother was about to rashly head off to confront the elderly delphox she had once called "master" when the sound of innocent laughter filled her ears.

As suddenly as a summer storm darkens the sky only to vanish once again leaving no trace but damp ground and the beauty of a rainbow, so too did the lopunny's anger with the sounds of gentle laughter coming from the unmistakable voices of her children at play. Their lives had indeed been touched by the same loss as that of their mother, but they had let the warmth permeate their entire being. The loss to them was but a dark corner of their bright and sunny vale of life which seemed to stretch on endlessly before them.

Following the laughter of her children, the lopunny did not have to go far from where she had been originally before her panicked flight had drug her in the opposite direction of their location. She knew deep in her heart had she been more in tune with the presence that covered the small sanctuary, she would have found them sooner. The sting of her disappointment in herself alleviated by the salve of her children's laughter.

The female lopunny swiftly followed the melodic laughter to a nearby sheltered pool. Many of the young pokémon who came and went liked to use this pool to play in or relax, as it was shallow and the sun warmed it throughout the day, making it much safer and more comfortable to swim in than the deep pool into which the bottom of the falls met.

Her heart, though, stopped dead in its tracks as she saw her children in the pool with an unknown visitor—a male vaporeon bobbing its head in and out of the shallow pool and shooting streams of water and bubbles at her children. It was clearly all in a playful fashion to the common observer, but the lopunny was still too wrapped up in her loss to see past it. To her, this was an attack, pure and simple, and she intended to put a stop to it right then and there.

Dashing towards her nearest child and scooping it into her arms, the mother of the two siblings deftly placed herself in front of the other, putting herself between them and the perceived danger, her every powerful muscle ready to strike down this unknown foe with the rampant and unrelenting force of a mother defending her young.

Before any violence could occur, a small blast of flame separated the two would-be combatants, the air filling with steam as the pool of water was heated by the blast.

"Fleur, why must you always regress so quickly?" an aged voice sounded as an elderly vulpine figure stepped slowly towards the small gathering. "I know your pain. I feel your pain every time you dwell on it," the soothing voice continued as the aged delphox stepped forward.

His appearance was almost grandfatherly, with a pair of spectacle frames perched upon his snout. His fur had lost much of its luster over the years. His whiskers and fur drooped as though soaked with water, though this was just from his progressive age. His slow but intentional movement towards the group drew both attention and awe as clearly the elderly delphox was both powerful and wise, though his age showed more of the latter. Even the vaporeon's frill pulled back in respect of the aged vulpine as he hobbled closer.

"Fleur, you and I will have to work on the basics once again," the aged creature said to the rabbit in a soft tender voice. "I know you are impatient and want to move forward in your path, but I cannot take you up a mountain when you keep rolling down the hill," the fox said slowly, panache filling his voice. "For now though, take your children and enjoy some time with them. It will help clear your mind for later," he added with an almost grandfatherly smile.

Fleur was about to argue with the fox; indeed she felt a great deal of discomfort in being around this particular vaporeon, yet the aged pokémon gave her a knowing wink and nodded. She felt a great deal of hesitance to leave her master with such a dark presence about, but she did so anyhow.

The vaporeon had thought it quite the stroke of luck when it had stumbled across that dratini from the Sanctuary. The poor slender dragon-type pokémon had been so eager to tell of the wondrous place, and had tasted so good as the water-type had devoured her noodle-like body after having easily taken her out with a well-aimed Ice Beam, a move taught to him by his former trainer.

No one was to know he was here—those were the Witchfox's very specific orders. He was to simply infiltrate the sanctum and take down a weak old fire-type. It was almost as if she was handing him his dreams on a silver platter. His journey had been some distance, as the old fox's lair wasn't near any of the major routes or cities. Indeed it was likely that the old coot didn't want anyone finding the place without first being invited. Though, if this was the case, he should have made sure that his followers did not spill their guts about its location at any time they pleased.

He had intended to lure those little buneary closer to the deep pool and then to take them before they could be corrupted by this doddering old fool and his nefarious ways. The vaporeon just could not believe how many pokémon were suckered into believing that load of tauros droppings about how he wanted to just help those who had been plagued by misfortune—help them by sending them to their doom by his own hands. That was what his mistress had told him. She had told him that, by doing this deed, not only would he prove himself a hero to the world, but would most certainly be such a heroic pokémon that no trainer could ever resist the desire to catch him. He would never be lonely again—never abandoned again.

As the mother and her two children left reluctantly, the vaporeon braced himself for what he assumed would be an attack from the most devious of foes, but instead he felt that same permeating warmth that all the vale's inhabitants felt. It radiated off of the old fox like he was the sun itself and filled the very cracks of his soul with hope.

The old fox smiled and the vaporeon nearly melted. The clouds of doubt and worry seemed to just wash away in the aged delphox's presence. How could this kindly old soul be the dark seed that was poisoning the lush garden of his mistress' kingdom?

"I'm not mad, you know," the old vulpine said, leaning down and placing a paw on the vaporeon's slimy head. "You aren't the first that she has tricked with promises she can't keep, and you won't be the last either," he said warmly as he gently rubbed the head fin of the vaporeon next, the placements of his hand seeming strangely strategic.

Guilt filled the vaporeon's soul—crushing guilt that seemed to drag its very being down to the deepest depths. "How—How do you know?" he asked softly, almost afraid of the answer. The fox had said that there were others before him, but that did not mean that he had given himself away. He kept his mind only on his desires like his mistress had told him to do.

He did not even have a chance to think about attacking before the old fox had rendered him entirely useless.

"Do not let anyone tell you that you have no worth," the old fox said as he continued to rub that warm aged paw against the vaporeon's head. "I know what you came here for—the same reason that witch intended to use you against me in the first place. Your doubt, your fear, your uncertainty, your loneliness…you are so hurt and afraid that your own emotions gave you away before you even reached the bottom of the falls." The old delphox frowned faintly. "I wish that you'd come to me for help, but her toxic ways have seeped too deep into you. Even if I let you go, she'd just destroy you for your failure."

The vaporeon asked, fear trembling in his voice, "Why can't you let me go? I'll never come back! I'll go far away from her! I was wrong. I know that now!" Trying to bolt, the poor water-type realized too late that he could not move. The vaporeon's true nature was starting to show through, all his bravado being replaced by his cowardice. His muscles refused to respond as the fox continued to rub his head gently. There was something ominous about the way the delphox had said that he could not leave, and even more so how he had said that his mistress would destroy him if he was released.

"It's okay to be scared," the elderly vulpine stated as he stopped rubbing the vaporeon and lifted him up out of the pool. "I can feel that fear, you know. I feel everything that you feel. It wouldn't be fair to make you experience this alone." He leaned forward, gazing deeply into the water-type's glistening, tear-covered eyes.

"Please... Please don't!" the small blue pokémon begged as the truth began to sink in. He wanted to struggle, to try and get away from the delphox, but his body was completely seized up.

There were no more words from the older pokémon, though. The delphox hesitated briefly as he brought his snout in closer. He gave a very slow blink that seemed to, for the vaporeon, last for minutes. He then creaked open his eyelids once again to reveal a flash of purple light from each of his hazy irises. The unfortunate vaporeon's world glowed a brilliant mix of pink and purple until it was all that he could see. His mind was entranced by the radiance. He felt every sense of self that existed cognitively start to become engulfed by the flashes of color as well, until he let it all go, leaving nothing left but blackness.

The sagely delphox blinked once again, feeling strain from the usage of this taxing power in the back of his brain. Once the uncomfortable sensation eased out, he opened his eyes to see the vaporeon limp in his grasp, his upper body leaning back and his muscles fully relaxed—the delphox could tell all tension had been released from the water-type's body just by feeling it on his delicate paws.

He smiled warmly at the sight of the vaporeon's small chest rising and falling slowly, but frowned almost immediately, coming to terms with the fact that everything the water pokémon had known in the past would never return. All of his memories, reminisce, and his beliefs would be as far away as a hoppip being carried by the wind to an unknown destination. He then sighed deeply, concluding that it would likely be much more preferable.

Still carrying the water-type gently in his grasp, the delphox begun to make his way to another part of the Sanctuary.

He walked until he came upon a dilapidated temple, ornamented in overgrowth and the sun's soothing rays. He entered the ruins which had no door to speak of and walked toward the West wall, an assortment of tables and chairs leaning against it. As he ambled forward, the sound of his aged fur coat sweeping against the stone floor as well as his worn but supple feet echoed across the large chamber, the interior still and silent otherwise.

The delphox gently placed the vaporeon's body onto one of the longer tables, his wet, slimy skin giving a soft splat as it touched the hard surface. The sagely fox did his best to position the water-type's limbs, frill, and long, thick tail so that he could be in as comfortable of a position as possible to aid his slumber. When the vaporeon awakens, he will have a clean slate, and it is this thought that consoled the delphox's spirit.

The sagely fox noticed a familiar aura in his presence and found himself somewhat shocked to see Fleur return without her children, standing at the entrance of the temple, the glow of the sun's rays hitting her back and outlining her figure with a comforting, soft light. After a couple awkward seconds, the lopunny walked into the temple and towards the scene, constantly eyeing the water-type.

"Is he-?" the mother rabbit stopped herself for a moment, realizing from the vaporeon's moving chest that he was indeed alive. She gazed back at the sagely fox with a look of concern, to which he responded with a smile.

"Yes, he is safe, but from this day forth, he will lead a new life, and this shall be his new home, unless he objects to it, of course," he chuckles upon correcting himself and Fleur shoots him a dubious glare. The delphox looks back towards the vaporeon and sighs deeply, happy that the situation had turned out a lot better than it could have had the creature lashed out at him.

He noticed the vaporeon's eyelids start to twitch rapidly, his breathing becoming irregular.

"I think he is waking up," the delphox stated tenderly, Fleur gazing in wonder as the vaporeon begun to gently stir.

Through the glistening reflection of a neatly-placed crystal, an image of the vaporeon's vision shone brightly, the water-type having succumbed to a spell from the Witch before having set out to do her malicious bidding. In his vision was that wretched elderly delphox, staring directly at her. The malevolent female delphox stared back with utmost hatred, leaning further and further forward without herself knowing it before the vision suddenly went completely black.

The Witch blubbered in angry confusion, smacking the crystal savagely. Upon realizing it was no use, she began to pace the inside of her spacious cave, the middle ground taking the shape of a deliberately chiseled circle, the edges surrounded by a deep black pit save for one side that stretched out in the form of a stony path towards the exit of her dwelling. Along the edges of the platform, antique lamps were placed, their mouths yielding a hot, burning flame, each lamp having a different color fire ranging from green to blue to purple.

After a session of heated swears underneath her rank breath, the female delphox noticed the crystal that reflected the vaporeon's vision started glowing once again. She speed-walked over to the shining stone, her heart racing in anticipation of what was to appear next. To her great dismay, the reflection of the elderly male delphox and his spectacles had popped up once again, but this time she noticed the lighting was a good deal different; they were in a darker area. Gazing more closely and squinting her eyes, teeth bared, she felt like the old fox was looking directly at her. After several seconds, he would do something that would chill her already icy heart—the male delphox smiled warmly and then waved one of his paws that came into view in a gesture of greeting.

"Hello there," he said softly, "How are you feeling, little guy?" After a moment's silence where the Witch's body stiffened in great expectation for the dumb water-type to let out a devastating Hydro Pump attack at the fox's stupid wrinkled face, the vaporeon simply replied, "Who—Who are you?"

The Witch screamed in frustration as she shattered the crystal into hundreds of glistening pieces with her psychic energy. "How could that weakling have failed so miserably!?" the Witch shouted as her purple flaming aura blazed like a small sun around her. "He didn't even disrupt anything! He only served as a lesson! He may as well have gift wrapped himself!" A wave of both psychic energy and pure plasma pulsed off of her, decimating what little plant life was still to be found in the stone circle and knocked off the surrounding lamps to fall into the seemingly bottomless pit all around.

Her path of destruction, however, was short-lived. As she made her way to exit the stone circle towards Lavender, a seeker cloaked in a makeshift robe was making their way down that self-same path—one so desperate to redeem their self and reclaim what they had lost that they were turning to the last possible hope. The Witch could sense this lost soul and their power deep within, soft blue flames spiraling around the newcomer. "Welcome, young one. I've been expecting you," the delphox cackled as the fires burned away the tattered coverings, revealing a determined, young female lucario, her spikes filed down in shame, but her aura brighter than the sun. "I have what you seek."

Fleur glared at the sagely fox with a knowing look, the one that a mother gives a child who has tried to cover up his wrongdoing, but left clear evidence of who the perpetrator was.

"Now don't stare at me like that. He was a threat, but one that you did not need to face, my student," the old fox stated, gazing innocently at the stern rabbit. The two of them exited the decrepit temple to let the vaporeon rest further. The water pokémon did not last for very long once he initially woke up and questioned the delphox's identity.

"I have traveled your path and have come to understanding. You are still starting on the path. If I had let you handle the situation, it may have ended badly for you or your children, and all the hard work you have put in would have been for naught. Learn to trust again, Fleur, learn to let others help you," the old fox lectured as he leaned against a nearby rock, "lest you end up like this poor soul, so easily consumed by his own fear that he did not even see it leading him to this outcome."

The lopunny folded her arms and shook her head at the old fox with a smile. "You can have help too, Master," she softly advised before leaving the ancient delphox to once again attend to her children.

He waited until the rabbit was out of sight before murmuring, "And you could have had mine as well...but my way was too hard for you, wasn't it?" He leaned back further to soak in the sun, then continued, "Though you have certainly been through your fair share of trials, my dear student."